Curl Warehouse's Guide to Glycerin and Dew Points

Curl Warehouse's Guide to Glycerin and Dew Points

Posted by Lisa C. on

Glycerin. Does the word instantly get your attention?  If there’s one ingredient that seems to not get the love in the curly/wavy community, it would be glycerin.

What is Glycerin?

Glycerin is a humectant that can also known as glycerol.  It is a natural compound derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. It's a clear, colourless, odorless, and syrupy liquid with a sweet taste.  Note if your product has it listed as vegetable glycerin or it is a vegan-friendly product, it will not be made from animal fat.

It is used in a lot of products from hair care, skin care, and cosmetics. It can be very hard to avoid.

The thing is, glycerin is not the only humectant you will see in your curly hair products.  It might be the most fickle humectant, but rarely do I ever see any concerns on social media or am I asked about any other humectant beside glycerin.  

This is a partial list of the most common simple humectants that you might see in hair products:

  1. Glycerin/glycerol
  2. Sorbitol
  3. Propylene Glycol
  4. Sodium PCA
  5. Agave Nectar

They are all excellent moisturizers and emollients because they help your hair to retain water.  An added bonus is that they also are great curl activators and enhancers.

In super humid and super dry climates (i.e., the absolute extreme ends of these measurements) people sometimes find avoiding glycerin reduces frizz.  This may be because in these conditions glycerin might be overworking by pulling in  more moisture to the hair, or losing it (drying) too quickly.

As a general rule, I don’t recommend the dropping of glycerin in all of your products. It usually results in dry hair because glycerin is such a great moisturizer.  Avoiding glycerin in products that are rinsed out like your shampoo and conditioner is completely unnecessary.  Plus, all products have different ingredients in different concentrations, so ultimately formulation is more important than one specific ingredient.

Reducing the Effects of Glycerin

If you find glycerin causes frizz or is too heavy (moisturizing) there are a few things you can do to reduce the effects of it instead of avoiding it entirely.  Here are some thoughts around what ingredients can help as well as some product suggestions to improve your glycerin experience:

1. Use a Primer

Start with a primer that doesn’t have any glycerin or other simple humectants as your first styler.  This product should have film-forming humectants such as:

  • Plant Gels
  • Proteins
  • Polymers

Then the rest of your stylers - even those with glycerin - should not be as effected. Remember these ingredients work best in your styling products, the ones that stay on your hair and are not rinsed out like shampoo and conditioner.

Formulation is so, so important as I mentioned above.  If your product has glycerin, but it also has film-forming humectants, proteins, and polymers (in all likelihood) it will work out fine.

Let’s talk a bit more about each of these three ingredients as these will  help to prevent more water from being drawn in (high humidity/dew point) or escaping as in low humidity/dew point).

List of Plant Gels (not complete just the common ones)

  • Aloe Vera
  • Flaxseed
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose
  • Pectin
  • Xanthan gum
  • Guar gum
  • Marshmallow root
  • Slippery elm
  • Carrageenan (also known as irish moss or seaweed extract, sea emollient, sea algae, sea vegetable)
  • Nettle leaf tea or nettle extract

Indicators of Protein

  • Hydrolyzed ________(source of protein) protein can be wheat, rice, quinoa, etc.
  • Peptides
  • Amino acids


  • Polyquaternium-69,70,72,11,10, 4, 16 and 28 (4, 10 and 11 can build up)
  • PVA/VP Copolymer

In fact a lot of polymers would work well in high and low dew points to combat frizz. They can condition, detangle, and be film-forming. They are Curly Girl / Curly Hair Method approved.

Here are a few good primers available at Curl Warehouse that, when used even with a glycerin-containing product, can help reduce the effects of a humectant:

Many of the products above can be used on their own as well, so they are great for experimenting with in different climates.

2. Use an Oil

If your hair can manage oils, this can also create a barrier to slow down moisture loss.  If your hair is fine and low density it might be too heavy, but like any oil start with just a few drops and experiment. Apply this like a primer under your styling products.

3. Use a Leave-in or Cream

Last but not least, a cream or a leave-in conditioner can work as long as it is not too heavy for your fine texture or lower density hair.

    How the Weather Affects Your Products and Hair

    We can’t talk about glycerin and leave the weather out of the conversation.  Since hair is affected by how wet or how dry your climate is here is a bit more on the buzzwords that you will hear from other blogs, on social media, and from educational influencers.

    We all talk freely about the humidity being too high or too low, but the actual metric you want to keep your eye on is the dew point.  What is the difference between these two?  Well in simple terms:

    • Dew Point = How much water the air can hold.
    • Relative humidity = How much water the air is holding right now, at this temperature.

    You can get the dew point from your favourite weather information site/app.   I use here in Canada.

    Once you know your current dew point you can use this guide to help you choose the stylers to use and how you're going to use them (i.e., with or without other products).

    • Dew point below -9C is Very Dry

    Use as much moisture (water) and emollients (oils, butters) as you hair can handle without over-conditioning. Many will have to expect a looser curl pattern at this dew point.  You may need to limit simple humectants and add film-forming humectants (plant gels, protein, and polymers as listed above).

    • Dew point -9C to -1C is Dry
    Add film-forming humectants, moisture, and emollients and possibly limit the use of simple humectants.
    • Between -1C to 4C is Iffy
    These dew points can be iffy. Some people can tolerate more humectants. Others cannot. Very trial and error in this range so experiment with what works best for you.
    • Between 4C to 16C is prime curly/wavy range
    You should get some curl without that summer frizz. Find a balance between moisture and humectants that works for you.
    • Dew point 16C and up means high levels of water in the air

    Some curls will be able to tolerate humectants at this point. Those with more porous hair may start to see humectant-induced frizz at this range, and especially so once the dew point hits 21C.


    Remember: not everyone experiencing frizz has frizz that is caused by high and/or low dew points. Frizz can be caused by many things. Check out my blog on What is Frizz? for more information. Like everything with the Curly Girl / Curly Hair Method you need to experiment with your hair to see what works best with your curls and your environment.

    In summary, how do you get great curls that don't take in too much moisture in high dew points or lose moisture in low dew points?

    1. Use styling products that have humectants lower than the first 5 ingredients and/or

    2. Use styling products that have film-forming humectants to help negate the impacts of these humectants (i.e. plant gels, hydrolyzed proteins and polymers) and/or

    3. Reach for oils, leave-in conditioners, and creams if your hair can handle the weight of these products. 





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